VOLUME 31, NUMBER 17 THURSDAY, January 27, 2000

Regional center to tackle public-safety issues

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Reporter Contributor

The Regional Community Policing Center (RCPC) is officially open for business at UB.

Part of the University Community Iniative (UCI), the center is tackling an issue-public safety-that has been at the forefront of community discussions since UCI began planning its strategy to stabilize, rebuild and revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding the university's South Campus.

Emphasizing that the RCPC's role is not that of a police agency, coordinator Pamela Beal said its aim is to "marry the university resources and issues of community safety in a way that is useful for police agencies and community."

The RCPC is an unprecedented, cross-jurisdictional collaboration among police agencies from Amherst, Buffalo, Tonawanda, Cheektowaga, Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and UB, as well as the Erie County Sheriff's Department, to work on quality-of-life issues in the community. The center provides a venue where police officers will work in partnership with residents, businesses, government and social-service agencies to prevent crime and address community problems that impact on public safety.

It is funded by a $70,450 grant from Erie County through the County-Municipal Regionalism Program, and a New York State Crime Prevention grant.

"Quality of life is absolutely essential to have a stable neighborhood," said Danis Gehl, UCI project director. "Our goal is to stabilize the community.

"From the very beginning of the UCI project, public safety came up many times as an issue for residents," said Gehl, pointing out that this concern on the part of UCI's stakeholders was a driving force in establishing the center.

However, collaboration would be a key component of the venture.

"Everybody was doing their own thing," said Gehl of law-enforcement agencies. For example, she said, "if there was a ring of car thefts, they would work together. But once that's over, there's no long-term collaboration.

"When we said, 'Well, where should (the center) be, people said the only place it could be was the university," Gehl said.

Beal said the center, located in Allen Hall on the South Campus, serves as a place where police from each of the four jurisdictions-Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Tonawanda and Amherst-can meet to discuss issues in "neutral space."

"It happens to be the center of these four jurisdictions," she said. "Geography is destiny."

And so it is. The RCPC is moving ahead with new projects, including a speaker series that has featured Thomas Frantz, associate professor and chair of the UB Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, in conjunction with the Erie County Probation Department, speaking on troubled youth. More events that tap into the expertise of university faculty as well as local experts-such as the Frantz presentation, which drew nearly 80 people-can be expected, she said.

Beal also helped organize a 12-week leadership-development seminar for police managers and supervisors at the RCPC. The seminar, sponsored by the Buffalo Police Department and conducted by the UB School of Management, drew together law-enforcement officers from five police agencies.

The center also hosts problem-solving training sessions in which members of block clubs and community organizations work with police to solve common issues.

Sometimes, issues come from outside the RCPC circle but tie into the work of the center, based on the nature of the problem.

One such example is a request from residents for training on how to maintain their properties, an issue that was brought up at a UCI development meeting. As Beal points out, the issue definitely is related to crime prevention.

"You can establish a property as private or public by the way you design it," she said. Even the appearance of disorder, she said, can lead to bigger problems.

Beal also hopes to start working with area youth by involving them in community and development, which, she said, helps to instill in them a sense of pride in and ownership of the area in which they live. She's also in the process of establishing a library with information on community policing, neighborhood revitalization and other such issues.

In addition, the center will be facilitating a needs-assessment survey directed toward issues of safety and security, the findings of which would be discussed in a community forum.

"It's a way for us to set our priorities," Beal said. "(And) it's another opportunity to show people how they can use this in problem-solving."

The RCPC will host an open house from 5:30-7 p.m. Feb. 22 in the center in 100 Allen Hall. The public is welcome to attend.

Information on the center can be found at http://wings.buffalo.edu/uci or by calling the center at 829-3099. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

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